A question that has come up often after so many Michigan residents lost power in multiple instances this summer is: “why don’t we bury power lines underground?” It seems like a simple solution to a big problem, and burying power lines does indeed improve reliability. But it is also very expensive, and may not be worth the cost when compared to alternatives.
This question is part of a bigger question: How can we determine what is the most cost-effective way to reduce power outages and strengthen the grid? It turns out that the measures to make the utilities accountable for poor service can also help with this question. 5 Lakes Energy Managing Partner (and consultant for CUB) Douglas Jester explained how at Day 2 of the Michigan Public Service Commission’s “Technical Conference on Emergency Preparedness, Distribution Reliability, and Storm Response” (read our blog post about day 1 here).Read more
The MPSC held a technical conference on Oct. 22 that provided a diverse range of perspectives on the electric reliability problem in Michigan, and what to do about it.
The conference also included a presentation from CUB of Michigan Executive Director Amy Bandyk, who gave a preview of our upcoming 2021 Utility Performance Report, the latest version of our annual series. The report will be out soon enough, but the basic takeaway is that Michigan utilities continue their trend of poor reliability performance and high electric bills for customers, compared to utilities around the country.Read more
MPSC Chair Daniel Scripps
The political investigation into Michigan’s problem of frequent power outages and what to do about it ramped up with a state House Energy Committee hearing on Oct. 13 in which representatives from both sides of the aisle voiced dissatisfaction with the job done by Michigan’s investor-owned utilities.
The questions representatives asked of the hearing’s only witness, Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) Chair Daniel Scripps, hit upon the need for new policies that make the utilities accountable for their service performance, as CUB has been advocating in reports, blog posts, interviews, social media and testimony before Michigan regulators.Read more
The Fix for Michigan’s Power Outage Problem Needs To Be More Ambitious Than What The Utilities Are Offering
Consider: You’re in college and you need to get at least a C- to pass a class you are taking pass/fail. Right now your average grade in the course is an F. Say you do well enough on your final exam to raise that average to a D. Is that progress? Technically, yes. A D is better than an F. But in the scope of things, the end result is the same: you are still failing.
We see a similar situation going on right now with Michigan investor-owned utilities and their plans to invest in the distribution grid and increase electric reliability for customers, a goal that customers are demanding be met after the appalling length and number of outages this past summer. DTE, Consumers Energy and Indiana Michigan Power have all filed these distribution plans, as required by the Michigan Public Service Commission.Read more
A recloser is a type of electrical equipment used to automatically detect faults on a line. Source: TheEnergeticEngineer, Wikimedia Foundation.
Big news coming out of the Michigan Public Service Commission on Aug. 25 for anyone who wants to avoid more electric reliability crises like the hundreds of thousands of Michigan utility customers who have lost power during thunderstorms over the past few weeks!
The MPSC approved an order that mandates Michigan’s investor-owned utilities submit reports detailing all the tree trimming, grid hardening, and other distribution grid-related spending measures each utility has enacted, and providing a host of other information. These reports should help the public and stakeholder groups like CUB scrutinize the utilities’ planning and strategies.Read more
Following recent mass power outages after severe thunderstorms, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) is accelerating efforts to implement new protections for Michigan utility customers, MPSC Commissioner Tremaine Phillips said in a meeting with stakeholder groups Aug. 18.
Those efforts include making it easier for customers to access credits that reduce their electric bills following long outages, a step that the Citizens Utility Board of Michigan has been emphasizing for more than two years (including in this space, such as here, and in this report).Read more
Photo by Brendan Wood, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0
Which is better: helping a lot of utility customers with their bills a little bit, or giving a lot of assistance to a smaller number of customers? That turns out to be a key question when looking at how Michigan implements the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) compared to how neighboring states implement the federal program. The short story is: Michigan tends to give assistance to more households than its neighbors Ohio and Illinois do, but each of those households tends to receive less assistance than customers in those other states.
Considering the hoops people unfortunately jump through to get any assistance, is the lower sum enough to make it worth the hassle?Read more
Consumers Energy’s offices at One Energy Plaza, Jackson. Source. Licensed Under Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0.
In a recent op-ed in the Lansing State Journal, Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan Executive Director Amy Bandyk writes that it is “the utilities themselves,” rather than other alleged culprits like rooftop solar customers, that “have made our electricity more expensive and unreliable by failing to invest in the distribution system wisely.” What exactly do we mean by “wise” investments into the electric grid?
New testimony filed on behalf of CUB and other groups in Consumers Energy’s electric rate case strikes at the heart of why Michigan has such a problem with electric reliability, and what to do about it.Read more
A little over a year ago we were concerned about the pandemic causing thousands of utility customers to not be able to pay their bills, creating a huge backlog of customer debt. While we know that many of those fears did indeed come to pass, it has been difficult to determine the extent to which customers became indebted because the data from the utilities is far from transparent.
Now, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) is releasing a public database that hopefully can make this information more accessible. This “COVID-19 Utility Customer Data” site, available here, “features a database of regularly updated information on the number of regulated utility customers whose service has been shut off for nonpayment and customers who've had their service restored, as well as the number of customers enrolled in assistance plans and information on the number of customers who are 30, 60, 90 or more days past due on their utility bills,” the MPSC said in a news release.Read more
Moving toward more affordable, reliable and clean energy is not just about where the energy comes from, be that wind, solar, natural gas, hydro or another source. Just as important is how to get the energy from where it is generated to the consumer. Most people have a basic understanding of how a wind turbine, a solar panel or a gas-burning plant works, but the web of transmission lines that criss-cross the country is more mysterious.Read more